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GardeningVegetables in March

Vegetables in March

From the middle of February there has been a lot of growth of the overwintered salad leaves in the polytunnels—mainly the mustards (Rouge Metis, Pizzo, Wasabina, Purple and Golden Frills, Purple Wave), American landcress, winter purslane, red russian kale, rocket, mizuna. The lettuce took a while longer to get going again, but by the end of February was going strong too.

The mark of the regrowth of the overwinter salad leaves comes with the need of many plants to have 10 hours or more of daylight to actively grow, which in our part of the world comes around the middle of February. This is the end of the Persephone period, which in Greek mythology relates to when Hades (God of the Underworld) abducted Persephone (Goddess of Spring). Demeter (Goddess of Agriculture and also mother of Persephone) appealed to Zeus for the return of her daughter, but Persephone had eaten four pomegranate seeds whilst in the underworld. Zeus said she must stay in the underworld for four months every year for this, and it is in that period (the Persephone period) that plant growth all but stops (Demeter supposedly withholds fertility in this period of time).

The long and short of it is that there are a few months of the year—known to us as winter, when the daylight hours are too short for most plants to actively grow, but when daylength tips past the 10 hour mark, growth begins again—Spring has sprung!

This is undeniably a great time to be a vegetable grower or gardener, and although the weather doesn’t always go the way we want it to, the lengthening days gives us hope and energy. Seeds can be sown in earnest, and strong growth will be made as the seedlings no longer have to reach for light as much.

We do make some extra early sowings of brassicas and legumes that will be planted around the middle of March (from an early February sowing), but these are always a bit of a gamble, and although they sometimes work, during a wet, cold spring they can just sit around being eaten by slugs.

Now is a good time to get sowing radish, salad turnips, red russian kale, mustards, rocket, beetroot, spring onions, onions and shallots and lots more (see below for more things to sow). Although it is a great time to start sowing, don’t get too panicked if you think you have missed the boat—there is still plenty of time for almost everything, and it is pretty much just peppers and aubergines that you may need to buy plants of rather than sown from seed now.

We don’t sow our tomatoes until mid March nowadays, after having done it in early to mid February for years. We always found that although the plants were ready to plant out earlier than the March sown ones, they were always very leggy and not particularly stocky plants. They were also ready to plant out before it was time to take out the over wintered salads, so leaving the sowing until mid March ensures stronger plants that are ready to plant at the time that the overwintered salads are ready to come out of the polytunnels.

It is a good idea to plan in some quick successions of fast growing crops in and around slower to establish crops especially early in the season, to make sure that you get as much variety as possible as early as you can. We do this a lot in the polytunnels, but it can also be done outside. We sow pak choi, kohl rabi, fennel, beetroot, chard, perpetual spinach and radish from early February to fill in any gaps in the polytunnels—planting from late February to early March. Some of the overwintered mustards are already going to flower at this point, so we pull out some of these and fill in the space with these quick growing spring crops, before the longer term summer cropping veg is planted around May.

Often we have to plant the tomatoes around the early sown veg, but this is not a problem, and just means that there are more living roots in the soil, less bare ground, and the space is used in a more productive way. We mirror this technique outside too, but often plant flowers in between the slower to establish crops to encourage pollinators and other beneficial insects to the garden.

Adding as much diversity to the garden as possible is an aim—not only to encourage above ground insect life, but also to establish a more diverse range of plants in the soil, all releasing root exudates, which are feeding soil life, which in turn make nutrients available to the crops and build a healthier more resilient soil that can withstand the extremes of weather.
We often plant edible flowers such as calendula, tagetes, nasturtiums, cornflowers, but also umbellifers like dill and coriander to encourage as much insect life as possible.

WHAT TO SOW THIS MONTH: turnips, chard, spinach, salad leaves—chervil, buckshorn plantain, lettuce, burnet, peashoots, anise hyssop, kales, mustards, agretti, sorrel, summer purslane & goosefoot (end of month). Radish, fennel, courgettes (end of month), spring onions, beetroot, cucumbers, early tenderstem broccoli, dill, coriander, peas and mangetout. We sow all of these into trays in the propagating tunnel to be planted out in April mostly. Also all of the indoor solanaceae such as tomatoes, peppers, chillies and aubergines can be sown now, as well as indoor grown french beans.

OUTSIDE: salads—mustards, rockets etc., lettuce, peas, broad beans, potatoes, early kale.
INSIDE: If you sowed any early salad crops for a polytunnel or glasshouse they can go in at the beginning of March. Also successions of peas and spring onions will continue to be planted.

OTHER IMPORTANT TASKS THIS MONTH: If the weather dries, continue preparing beds for the spring by mulching with compost. Keep on top of the seed sowing, but don’t sow too much of anything—think about sowing successionally rather than doing one big sowing in early Spring.

Things that are perfectly suited to successions include all salad leaves, spring onions, peas, beans, beetroot, chard, kale, carrots, fennel, radish and annual herbs.

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